Honoring our fallen in the Ironman World Championship

Honoring our Fallen

Today’s post is a short video on why I am here in Kona, Hawaii to race the 140.6-mile Ironman triathlon. Tomorrow I will embark on a 2.4-mile ocean swim, a 112-mile bike ride through the trade winds of the Kona coast, and finish with a 26.2-mile run through the lava fields. More than just a long day of endurance, I race for a purpose.


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Take the Rock 4.0

This is a recap of the 2016 Take the Rock Swim. For a more detailed article, check out my review of the 2014 event.


Me drying off on the shore after Take the Rock 4.0

On Sunday, September 25th, I had the honor of coordinating 59 swimmers in an Alcatraz swim. This wasn’t just any Alcatraz swim, but the 4th annual “Take the Rock” Veterans Swim Challenge. Participants were military veterans from Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan, and peace time. Many brought family members to train with them each Saturday to prepare for the 1.4-mile open water swim. We had perfect weather, with air temperatures in the 70’s and sunny and the water in the 60’s. And unlike years past, every single swimmer who jumped in was able to finish their swim and greeted by a cheering crowd at Aquatic Park in San Francisco.


How it started

Earle Conklin kayaking for Take the Rock 4.0

Take the Rock started in 2013 when a local Vietnam Veteran, Earle Conklin, challenged me and coworker, Maurice Delmer, to help him facilitate an Alcatraz swim for veterans. He envisioned the swim as a means to empower returning service members, many who struggle readjusting to civilian life and are looking for a way to return to “normal” everyday civilian life after deployments in Iraq or Afghanistan.


When I balked at the idea, Earle told me he understood, saying, “Yeah I’ve taken 12-year-old boy scouts on this swim, but if it’s too much for you I understand.” The Marine in me couldn’t let that go and I took the bait.


After my first swim, I was hooked. The feeling of peace in the water, the all-encompassing body high after getting out of the bay, along with the empowerment that helped me gain proficiency and even mastery in other areas of my life convinced me this swim was worth growing. More vets needed a taste of this.


Take the Rock 4.0

The first year Take the Rock included twenty vets and family members. It grew in the following years to thirty-two, then forty, and now fifty-nine this year! Advertising has been largely word of mouth, with only a few fliers and Facebook posts enticing people. I expect next year to be closer to eighty.

Swimmers waiting on the boat near Alcatraz for Take the Rock 4.0


We have been fortunate to provide this swim at no cost to participants because of funding from the Danville-based Vietnam Vets of Diablo Valley. In addition, our coaching is provided by the Nadadores Locos and South End Rowing Club members who love teaching people to swim and improve their technique. Others volunteer as safety kayakers or ground crew, whose tasks include helping paralyzed or amputee swimmers back into their chairs or prosthetics.

Bill Green, President of Vietnam Vets of Diablo Valley posing with swim founder Earle Conklin and his girlfriend Rhonda.

VNVDV President Bill Green with founder Earle Conklin and girlfriend Rhona.


Swimmers jumping off the boat near Alcatraz for Take the Rock 4.0

Beyond the notch in the belt for participants to say they  swam from Alcatraz, this event is about opportunity and empowerment. As a Marine Corps veteran who has served 2 tours in Iraq and was diagnosed with PTSD upon coming home, I don’t want pity from people. I just want  a fair opportunity to succeed. Many vets struggle with the transition of getting out of the military and back from war because the change of pace, societal norms, and sense of teamwork is dramatically different. The Take the Rock swim helps veterans to apply their military mindset and focus their energy on both swimming and encouraging others. It’s a team effort, which is why we call it a challenge and not a race.


Swimmers waving to the camera in front of the Golden Gate Bridge during Take the Rock 4.0


Three notable finishers this year were Michelle Davis, Jeff Jewell, and Dave Smith. Michelle has worked hard over the last couple years to overcome injuries and confidence in the water. This year, she finished the swim for her first time and was greeted by her very enthusiastic friends.

Michelle high fiving friends after Take the Rock 4.0

High five enroute.


Jeff Jewell is the director of the Concord Vet Center. He has undergone major lifestyle changes in the last two years and lost over 70 pounds. This year he decided to literally jump in with both feet and train for the swim through his local US Masters Swim team in Solano County and with the Nadadores Locos during our Saturday practices. It had been a few years since he had regular exercise in his life, so this was a challenge, but one he did not back down from. Jeff dedicated the swim to the Gold Star families of California, which are the families of active duty military who have died while in service.

Jeff finishing the swim and walking on the beach after Take the Rock 4.0

This way to the beach party, sir.


Our oldest swimmer, Dave Smith, is a Vietnam Veteran and had volunteered in past years for the Take the Rock support crew. He decided that swimming from Alcatraz would be a great 70th birthday present to himself. Dave was in great shape, but did not have any experience swimming in the pool or open water. He proved that with determination and some coaching on technique, age is just a number when it comes to swimming Alcatraz.


Dave Smith finishing Take the Rock 4.0

Dave Smith, not even tired.


I have no background in swimming growing up. I learned how to “not drown” in the Marine Corps and became adept at the combat side stroke, but that was it. After swimming Take the Rock I signed up for the Ironman 70.3 Vineman in Sonoma County and began training with the Walnut Creek Masters and improving my technique tenfold thanks to coaches Kerry, Mike, Steve, and Deb. I’ve found a new home with everyone at the pool during the 6:45 practices and discovered that I actually love swimming. This also provided an opportunity for me to start this blog  about my own transition out of the military and how I have used endurance sports to deal with feelings of anxiety and depression. I’m currently training for the full Ironman Vineman 2017.



Next year will be our fifth anniversary of Take the Rock. Do you know any vets who want to join us? Would you like to volunteer and be part of the fun? Find out more at www.taketherock.com.

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Ironman Training – Month 1


The Journey Begins

Month one of training for my first full Ironman (140.6-mile triathlon) is in the books. While the work was familiar, the methods were new and I feel good about my progress so far. Because I have been training for a Half Ironman next week in Santa Cruz, I did not start from scratch. There are a few new things about training for my first Ironman including:

  1. Hiring coach Nick Carling
  2. Using the Maffetone Method
  3. Upgrading my watch to a Polar V800


Getting Schooled

Working with Nick has already been rewarding. Previously I have used a training book to keep me on a schedule and improve incrementally, but Nick has personalized my training plan and scheduled MAF tests to gauge my progress. Even though he is half a world away in Australia he can program a workout on Training Peaks and see how I performed once I upload the data after training sessions. Not only has this kept me accountable for training, it clears up the confusion on how to train and allows me to fit in each session according to my schedule.

Coach Nick Carling coaching athletes before a swim start.

Coach Nick Carling in action.

Including a warm-up and warm-down built into the workout is one of the biggest changes added to my training. Novel concept, right? I always believed these were good ideas, just not enough to actually incorporate them into a workout. Planning for them has changed how I feel afterward and avoided the much-dreaded injuries that arise when the body is not yet ready to perform. I admit, starting and ending my runs with a walk was maddening at first. I worried about the other people passing me on the trail, likely thinking “I remember my first jog.” Thankfully this worry passed and I now enjoy both the ritual and function bookending my workouts with slow movement.

August 14th

Graph showing mile times during the MAF during my first month of Ironman Training


August 21st

Graph 2 showing mile times during the MAF during my first month of Ironman Training


So far I have done two MAF tests running and seen my mile time decrease by nearly 30 seconds (from 09:51 to a 09:25). Given the slow nature of building an aerobic base, I am very encouraged by this progress, which occurred in only one week. I think the junk food binge a day prior to the August 14th test might explain some of this. MAF tests usually don’t happen every week, but I had some equipment malfunctions earlier in the month and could not trust the data from my August 7th test.

Training Peaks schedule for Ironman Training - Month 1

My weekly training schedule generally looks like this:

  • Monday: Bike
  • Tuesday: Swim in the AM and lunch run
  • Wednesday: Bike and Yoga
  • Thursday: Swim in the AM and lunch run
  • Friday: Off day
  • Saturday: Long bike ride
  • Sunday: Long run


I complete almost all my training in the morning starting around 6:00 am, which works well for my schedule. Not only do my 10-hour workdays make evening training close to impossible, but morning workouts are a great way to s



So far I have not implemented the High-Fat/Low Carb approach consistently. Besides a couple few FroYo binges, I did not want to change things up before my Half Ironman next week. Afterward, I will find what feels like a good balance between eating healthy fats and having the energy to maintain my training and lifestyle. I don’t plan on going into full ketosis but will continue to decrease junk food as much as possible.


Ingredients for a green smoothie

Most days I eat at least one salad. My go-to salad is a Kale & Broccoli crunch from Trader Joe’s mixed with blueberries, pumpkin seeds, and a homemade salad dressing. I also either make my own bone broth or drink a mug of store bought broth each day. Ben Greenfield has a great page on everything you ever wanted to know about bone broth, but the gist is this: it makes you feel like a superhero even after a heavy day of training. Drinking green smoothies is also a regular staple in my diet because they are quick and easy.


For now, training is coming along nicely. I have only missed a few sessions due to my lunch runs being squeezed out by work or a brief cold I got last week. Stay tuned next month for the next training log journal.


<— Back to the Intro

Forward to Month 2 —>


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